All Things Digital takes a look at the shifting landscape of mobile device data packages, where European carriers are leading the way in offering shared data plans allowing customers to sign up for a single data allotment to be used among multiple devices such as an iPhone and an iPad. Led by Austrian offerings from Orange, those shared data plans have begun rolling out to customer bases increasingly carrying multiple devices and seeking cost-efficient ways of obtaining data access for all of them.
Although the plans vary somewhat by country, the basic premise is the same. Users pay an extra couple of dollars a month for each additional device that shares data - similar to the way families and businesses here have long been able to share minutes between multiple phones.
"We believe that's really a way for the future," said Olaf Swantee, senior executive vice president for France Telecom's Orange unit.
The report notes that executives from AT&T and Verizon in the United States have said that they are actively working on shared data plans, with AT&T saying that such offerings are coming "soon" while declining to specify a launch timeframe.
Apple worked closely with wireless carriers ahead of the iPad's debut in order to be able to provide customers with simple and flexible data access for owners of 3G-capable models. While the initial unlimited data package offered by AT&T for the iPad was quickly replaced by tiered plans, users continue to be able to subscribe to and cancel data services as needed without the need for activation fees or long-term commitments. But shared data plans could offer additional flexibility to provide data service for multiple devices and relatively low incremental costs, provided that the additional device fees imposed by the carriers are not excessive.
AT&T has already had to respond to the idea of shared data with its tethering plans that allow users to create their own Wi-Fi hotspots connected to the cellular network via their phones. The carrier had initially offered tethering support for an additional $20 per month on top of the standard data fee, despite not offering any additional data allotment. The surcharge drew numerous complaints from users, and the carrier eventually modified its offerings to include an additional 2 GB of data for customers on its tethering plan.